During my husband's first visit to New York 20+ years ago, his driver jumped out of the car to attend to another customer before he had even been paid by my spouse and his business partner.
"Admirable zeal" one would think - if not for the other taxi that also had pulled up, the other driver that also had gotten out, and the fist fight that broke out between the two in the middle of the four lane street.
Welcome to NYC.
Fast forward 20 years: Enter Uber, the crowd sourced ride providing company.
One important factor in Uber's success has been the unsatisfactory taxi service in many parts of the U.S.
The lack of competition due to mismanaged regulation has resulted in a fleet of cars that many people would rather avoid sitting in, driven by cab drivers that many people would rather avoid doing business with.
Another factor in this market is the availability of public transportation. To which degree could an alternative to taxis be clean, safe, reliable, convenient, and affordable train, bus, and trolley service?
Although San Francisco, the home of Uber, has better public transport than many other places, it also has a very impatient population that would rather go straight from A to B when they want: now, not in 10 minutes, and certainly not if it includes changing vehicles.
Uber saw a need for alternative transportation and combined it with a need of many to make an extra buck on a flexible schedule.
Hats off for solving two real problems.
But then Uber got funded. A lot. To make its drivers dispensable. And now it has to grow and to squeeze more margin out of the operation to provide returns to the people who provided all this money.
We are seeing the reaction from cab drivers in many other big cities around the world.
They are - not surprisingly - infuriated by this competition. Because full time drivers don't think cab driving should be a "marginal cost" proposition. After all, driving is their livelihood.
One important difference between U.S. cab customers and those in many other countries is how satisfied the clients are with the taxi service in other places. Sure, it is nice getting service at a lower price. But London cabs have always had a way better reputation than American taxi service.
And if you don't feel you have been assaulted/abused/exploited by your existing providers, how much do you want to see their livelihood disappear? Unless you are a visitor to the country, drivers are not "others", they are members of your community.
I discussed this with a punctual and friendly cab driver who took me to the airport in Copenhagen in his well kept and clean Mercedes an early morning some months back.
Calling the service the night before, I immediately got "If you want a cab asap to address....... please press 1. Otherwise stay on the line."
As I was calling from a landline, the system knew where to send the cab and had one open in the neighborhood. If none had been in the neighborhood - or if I had called from a cell phone - I wouldn't have gotten the message. If I had used my cell phone, I might have used their app. One doesn't have to be a start-up to take advantage of technology.
What left the biggest impression from our discussion was the driver's puzzlement that Uber's "non-employees" accepted giving Uber 20% of the fare. Because he only paid 10% to the group he worked with. And, by the way, the group was a coop where any profit went back to the drivers proportionally with the business they had contributed.
So my question is: Why don't U.S. Uber drivers get together to form a coop? There is a market, it is a good model, but why do they want to pay exorbitant rent to Uber and Uber's owners for the service of earning somewhere around minimum hourly rate with no benefits? It doesn't look like a win-win any longer.
The story in New York ended with the new customer leaving the scene with a more even-tempered driver. A nicely suited and very broad shouldered businessman put his briefcase in the hands of a police officer and separated the two combatants. Applause ensued.
I always hope that those who play nice win in the end.
Full disclosure: I have never hailed an Uber and neither do I drive for Uber.